Countries Visited

Svalbard Spain United States of America Antarctica South Georgia Falkland Islands Bolivia Peru Ecuador Colombia Venezuela Guyana Suriname French Guiana Brazil Paraguay Uruguay Argentina Chile Greenland Canada United States of America United States of America Israel Jordan Cyprus Qatar United Arab Emirates Oman Yemen Saudia Arabia Iraq Afghanistan Turkmenistan Iran Syria Singapore China Mongolia Papua New Guinea Brunei Indonesia Malaysia Malaysia Tiawan Philippines Vietnam Cambodia Laos Thailand Myanmar Bangladesh Sri Lanka India Bhutan Nepal Pakistan Afghanistan Turkmenistan Tajikistan Kyrgyzstan Uzbekistan Japan North Korea South Korea Russia Kazakhstan Russia Montenegro Portugal Azerbaijan Armenia Georgia Ukraine Moldova Belarus Romania Bulgaria Macedonia Serbia Bosonia & Herzegovina Turkey Greece Albania Croatia Hungary Slovakia Slovenia Malta Spain Portugal Spain France Italy Italy Austria Switzerland Belgium France Ireland United Kingdom Norway Sweden Finland Estonia Latvia Lithuania Russia Poland Czech Republic Germany Denmark The Netherlands Iceland El Salvador Guatemala Panama Costa Rica Nicaragua Honduras Belize Mexico Trinidad & Tobago Puerto Rico Dominican Republic Haiti Jamaica The Bahamas Cuba Vanuatu Australia Solomon Islands Fiji New Caledonia New Zealand Eritrea Ethiopia Djibouti Somalia Kenya Uganda Tanzania Rwanda Burundi Madagascar Namibia Botswana South Africa Lesotho Swaziland Zimbabwe Mozambique Malawi Zambia Angola Democratic Repbulic of Congo Republic of Congo Gabon Equatorial Guinea Central African Republic Cameroon Nigeria Togo Ghana Burkina Fasso Cote d'Ivoire Liberia Sierra Leone Guinea Guinea Bissau The Gambia Senegal Mali Mauritania Niger Western Sahara Sudan Chad Egypt Libya Tunisia Morocco Algeria
Map Legend: 28%, 75 of 263 Territories

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Fun in Senegal and The Gambia

Crossing the border from Mauritania to Senegal is a bit like going from Mexico to the US. Mauritania is everything that "Islamic Republic of Mauritania" suggests that it would be with everyone covered up and looking ready for a walk across the Sahara. Senegal is also almost entirely Muslim, but of the brand that allows a lot less clothing and a lot more drinking.

Senegal is the western-most country on mainland Africa, but it has a splinter shaped country in its side--The Gambia. The Gambia splits Senegal in two with only a small strip in the east connecting the two. The Gambia is English speaking (English is the second language of everyone, and not everyone speaks it well), and is culturally more like Jamaica than probably anywhere else. Tara is going to do the nature post for the two, but here are the city and cultural aspects:

Each time we think that transport can't get much more run down, it does. The car from the Senegal border to St. Louis, our first stop in Senegal, was literally held together with wire. Need to open the door? Pull a wire. Need to put up a window? Sorry, not possible. Here it is from the inside.

I forgot to take a picture from the outside, but here is a similar car. This one is in a bit better shape than ours was. St. Louis was not the most impressive city, but Tara did find plenty of azaleas there. Azaleas, we have learned in our travels, are like a stamp on a city signifying that it was probably once a major colonial city. Tara, and apparently all the slave-trading Europeans, really like azaleas. Public transport does exist, but it is somewhat cramped. On the plus side, the buses are very colorful. It is often free to ride on the back, so you will see buses like this going down the major road at 60 miles per hour with five people holding onto the back for dear life. In Senegal, a couple of religious leaders from the past have acheived near saint status (no actual saints in Islam). People often pray to them and have orders that worship them. They also paint the two most famous everywhere, represented below.Tough to say whether there are more paintings of these icons or goats. Probably more goats, though. They are everywhere and eat anything. Most are owned by someone and just allowed to roam freely. When someone gets hungry for goat meat, they go looking for their goats. A fairly cheap way to raise meat. I'm surprised that you don't see more free range, trash fed goat advertised in the US. In Dakar, we stayed at the Catholic mission. Here we would like to thank every Catholic who has ever given money to the church, thereby making it possible for us to stay in a beautiful building at one-fifth the cost of anywhere else in Dakar. We also want to thank Deanne, a wonderful Brit who told us about the place. In any case, there was this nice lizard, which I realized was dead only when I moved in for a closer picture...

Dakar is considered the musical center of West Africa. We went out to a club called Just 4U, which is a stupid name, but probably the best known club in the city. We saw Orchestra Baobob, which is probably the most famous Senegal group there is. They are all about 70 years old and play Cuban-inspired African music. Very interesting. And all we had to do was buy something, which in this case was an overpriced creme brulee.
Here is the front of the club during the day. Doesn't exactly look like such an impressive place, but good places often don't.
The most popular sport in Senegal (or maybe a tie with soccer) is wrestling. When we were in Dakar, they happened to be having one of the biggest matches in a long time in one of the main stadiums, so we went. In French, it was called Le Grand Combat. Essentially, two guys dance around the stadium taunting each other before a match that lasts anywhere between about 5 and 60 seconds. The goal is simply the throw your opponent to the ground. We were in the section of Modou Lo, the overwhelming favorite, but he lost. This is the winner below (the mostly naked one). They pour about 50 gallons of soda on themselves and then cover themselves in sand. Right, we don't understand, either.
The streets of Dakar are mostly filthy and dirty, but these little fire finches have adapted and bring some color to an otherwise dirty city. I'd like to claim we knew the name when we saw it, but we asked a guide later on in our trip.
Senegal has a fairly peaceful government, but the same guy has been in power for a long time. He lives here. The guard was fine with us taking a picture, which normally isn't the case at homes of presidents. His gun did encourage us to ask before taking this picture.
This little market in Dakar is very touristy, which is funny since it sells fish and vegetables, probably not the two most common tourist needs. Like most of Africa, people come up to us trying to sell us ridiculous things. Most of the time this happens while waiting at bus stations, but someone might come up with a gallon of tomato sauce and say they will sell it to us for only $5. We say no and shortly they are offering to sell it to us for 50 cents. Just in case we needed a gallon of tomato sauce.
Apparently almost all of our Gambian pictures are nature, so Tara will do those. Here, however, is a warehouse in Georgetown, The Gambia, that locals claim used to be used to store slaves. That seems to be untrue, but it is probably that other buildings stood in this location that were used to store slaves on their way out of Africa.
Leaving from Georgetown on what would turn out to be an epic journey to Mali, this short ferry ride was unique in that the passengers actually have to pull on the cable on the left to move the ferry across the river. We were lucky not to have a car on the ferry when we had to pull.
A bit scarce on non-nature pictures, I guess. Senegal and The Gambia were both decent countries, but tourists should be prepared for a lot of people asking for money and gifts. It was nice to be in The Gambia, where we could speak English, but tougher to ignore people who ask for something in your language.

Our favorite techniques for begging include the snake hiss (often used by anyone who wants your attention), the kiss (not a romantic gesture in this part of the world, it seems), and my personal favorite, the finger snap in your face followed by an open palm. The last is rarer, but happened multiple times. Really, has any Westerner ever given money to someone who snapped in his/her face and then held out a hand for money? I doubt it.

Both have some nice wildlife, and that gets higher marks in my book than the cities.

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